Sunday, April 13, 2014

Beware BBC Business Editors who think they can write about science.

One of my perennial moans on this site is the hijacking of science reporting by media folk who think they can get their heads round science, but can't. The latest is Laurence Knight, Business Editor of the BBC, writing just two days ago on the use of lithium in rechargeable mobile phone batteries.

The title itself was an immediate giveaway. The lithium that is in the RECHARGEABLE cells of our lithium ION batteries does NOT power them. It's the electric current used for initial charging and subsequent recharging that powers them. The lithium supplies NO chemical and/or electrochemical energy to the uncharged cells. It's there purely a carrier and concentrator of externally-supplied electrical energy.

Pedantic? Maybe. But there's a common source of confusion about lithium in batteries, depending on whether the battery is PRIMARY (non-rechargeable) or SECONDARY (rechargeable).

One can and does have lithium metal, comprising lithium atoms, in a type of primary cell, and yes, it does take advantage of the exceptionally electropositive nature of lithium, the ELEMENT, which is the first member of the reactive alkali metals (though as the article points out, not as reactive as sodium or potassium in the same Group 1 of the Periodic Table).  But one would never be able to recharge a lithium primary cell once the metal had turned to a lithium salt (Li  to Li+ plus electron). It's simply not thermodynamically feasible to reverse that reaction under normal conditions of temperature etc..

The lithium ION battery works on an entirely different principle. It does not contain the reactive lithium metal, but lithium ions (chemically no more reactive than the sodium ions in one's table salt). It depends on a subtle effect, namely the penetration of lithium ions by the so-called intercalation effect in cleverly designed matrix materials.

Here's a handy image discovered on the internet:

So, unlike a lithium metal battery, which works without initial charging, the lithium ion battery will not work until it is given its priming charge, which causes those lithium ions to migrate from the positive electrode (left) to the negative electrode (right). Thus the introductory comment that it is not lithium that power this type of battery, but the electrical charge/recharge cycles. Lithium ions act merely as carriers of the externally-supplied electrical energy, albeit ones that can embed into the electrode materials for temporary storage.

So the lithium ion battery does NOT exploit the chemical reactivity of elemental  lithium, so references to the metal are irrelevant and misleading. What it does is to exploit the minute size of lithium ions (lithium comes 3rd in atomic number after hydrogen and helium in the Periodic Table, having just 3 protons and 4 neutrons).

Did Laurence Knight, Business Editor of the BBC, not bother to check his copy with the BBC's Science Editor before submitting for publication? I doubt it. In fact I wonder for how much longer the BBC will bother with a Science Editor when there are generalist liberal arts and finance-based journalists who consider themselves fully up to the task of reporting on scientific and technical matters.

Further reading? Try this for starters.


What is the difference between a “lithium metal battery” and a “lithium ion battery”?

A lithium metal battery (primary) is usually non-rechargeable, contains metallic lithium and features a higher energy density than other non-rechargeable batteries. Lithium metal batteries are often used in calculators, pacemakers, remote car locks and watches, to name a few.
A lithium ion battery (secondary) is rechargeable, does not contain metallic lithium and features high energy density. A lithium polymer battery is considered a type of lithium ion battery. Lithium ion batteries are used in consumer products such as cell phones, electric vehicles, laptop computers, power tools and tablets.


Postscript: internet search:

Laurence Knight's Education (in his own words)

University College London, U. of London

Master's degree, Eastern Europe stuff


University of Oxford

Bachelor's degree, PPE



So, in conclusion,  what might Laurence Knight have said that would accurately convey the flavour of lithium chemistry as applied to the batteries in everyday kit?  Flavour - ah now, there's a handy term.
Lithium comes in two flavours.  Mark 1 lithium atom-powered batteries - with a fiery flavour if you like. Open one of those up (not recommended) and you'll find a metal there so chemically-reactive that it froths when you add water, liberating flammable hydrogen gas. Those batteries have a limited application - since they are not rechargeable,.
What we have in our mobile phones is tamed lithium - lithium ions, which are atoms stripped of a single electron. Think of it as Mark 2 vanilla-flavour lithium.Lithium ions are lithium atoms that have lost their oomph. But they can still be made to serve as workhorses. Sorry about the mixed metaphors.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

"There is no possibility whatsoever that the image on the Shroud is a scorch. . . ....". Who says? Ask to see the experimental evidence - and check scientific credentials.

 Who else recalls that celebrated self-mocking (1973) roadside ad for Guinness stout ale:

Guinness ad: "I've never tried it because I don't like it

(It took quite a while  to track down an image of that memorable ad on internet  files. Methinks Guinness may have had second thoughts about its ability to attract new custom!)

I was reminded of it when reading the latest posting on, to give it a polite appellation on this bright sunny morning in the UK, now the Saharan smog and rain have passed over (see previous posting).

Yes, how many times have we seen those words in my title, quoted by shroud-authenticity promoters, the latest being from a gent with a leading role in the post-STURP, cat-that-got-the-cream $TERA. That's the "$hroud of Turin Education and Research Association" ho ho ho in case you didn't know. Sounds of cash registers ringing...

I've lost count of the number of big cheeses in the Shroudie Land who have solemnly incanted those words. Yet the vast majority have never bothered to produce a single contact scorch. I have - hundreds of them. While I sadly lack the technology to prove it, I invite others to disprove my contention that a contact scorch on linen can be as superficial as one likes, right down to the molecular scale at surface (primary cell wall) level. I see no theoretical or practical objections whatsoever

(ed: I've been taken to task elsewhere for that "prove me wrong" challenge. I've been accused of the very thing I condemn on this site (pseudoscience). Methinks the gent concerned should acquaint himself with the history and practice of science before attaching the p word to a published scientist, albeit long retired. He could do a lot worse than read up on the Higgs boson, whose existence was first predicted  by Peter Higgs in 1964, but it was needed as a vital component of the Standard Model (explaining why subatomic particles have extraordinary mass over and above relativistic mass that is predicted by e = mc squared). Higgs did not have the technology to prove the existence of his particles, nor did anyone else, until CERN's LHC proved its existence in 2012. Nobody condemned Higgs or anyone else for assuming the particle was there, if only to maintain the most all-embracing Theory of Nearly Everything. (except Gravity Dammit). Indeed, Higgs was awarded a Nobel Prize last year, despite having no hand in the experimental confirmation.  Homo interneticus, bereft of any formal scientific qualifications or research experience,   likes to think he understands the scientific method, but in my experience rarely appreciates the respect accorded to hypotheses and theories that unite a lot of existing disparate observations, but which still await the kind of experimental data that banishes most lingering doubts held by (fair-minded) sceptics. I exclude the flat-earth tendency from that final description, like those who think the radiocarbon dating MUST be wrong because it conflicts with their dossiers of "historical" and other evidence. It never seems to occur to them that the radiocarbon data conflicts with their self-serving agenda-driven quest for "spy clues" to the existence of the TS pre-14th century. Some of those spy clues, like tiny ink-drawn circles on an otherwise obscure Hungarian codex being evidence the illustrator  was signalling he had seen the Shroud  with his own eyes are frankly risible, indeed, faintly ludicrous, but to many in Shroudie  Land they constitute incontrovertible evidence against a 14th century provenance, and woebetide anyone who suggests otherwise. No, I'm not and never will be a Peter Higgs, with a 360 degree view of his chosen area of research. Mine's more like the standard 45 degrees. But I'm not a pseudoscientist either, like so many others I could mention who have dabbled in Shroudology, playing to the same old gallery).

So to STERA promoters and others: kindly cease recycling the same old mantra that the Shroud image cannot be a scorch. STURP never said that, as many folk seem to imagine. Read the STURP summary in full* and a reasonable person, free from preconceptions, religious or otherwise, might conclude precisely the opposite, namely that an image created by pyrolysis of linen, i.e. thermal degradation alone, is FULLY CONSISTENT with contact scorching. Elsewhere, in the course of some 200 and more postings,  I have addressed the many previous attempts to dismiss that notion, but they were either lacking in experimental support, or, one one occasion, accompanied by a risible and hamfisted demonstration of how to over-scorch.

Oh, and let's not forget the occasion when the $TERA top man no less deployed the nuclear option : ... there is no possibility whatsoever that the image on the Shroud is a scorch because ...   drum roll ..  it fails to show obligatory fluorescence under ultraviolet light. Yeah, right...Thanks for the chemistry lesson. Sadly I missed out on the photography module at University, having to do tedious and irrelevant stuff like 2 years of subsidiary organic chemistry. Uv fluorescence is a property of certain specific molecules. Those molecules are not necessarily permanent fixtures. They can oxidise, polymerise, volatilize etc. Lack of fluoresence, centuries after formation, proves nothing, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING., except maybe to photographers-turned-organic chemists and/or other $hroudie-circus showmen.

Postscript: here's a link to a posting I did over 6 months ago -  admittedly not my finest hour re concise reporting of new experimental findings - that I suspect gives the strongest clue as to why fabrics like linen and cotton (cotton especially) can take a scorch-imprint without falling apart.
Basically, what I found was that cotton can be scorched more easily than linen at any given temperature, but that the difference is reduced by pre-treatment of the fabric with strong alkali.

I interpret that as cotton having a greater concentration of fragile (thermolabile) non-cellulosic polysaccharides in the outermost primary cell wall, due either to genetic differences, OR the fact that cotton requires no retting to separate fibres, and that alkali targets those fragile polysaccharides (hemicelluloses etc) leaving cellulose largely intact, at least chemically. That leaves less target-material ON THE SURFACE for imprinting an image.  The underlying cellulose (especially the highly crystalline inert  variety in the core of the fibre, representing the secondary cell wall) seems to be largely irrelevant where contact scorching is concerned, at least where imprinting of a highly superficial image is concerned - one that attempts to model the faint image on the Shroud.

Here's a graphic from that posting, showing how alkali-treated cotton gives a less intense scorch than control(untreated cotton).

The difference seems to be greatest in the second-from-left imprint where the template was still very hot and held longer against the fabric, before 'serially imprinting' while progressively cooling (images to the right). That's suggestive of there being more than one chemical species qualifying as 'more thermolabile than cellulose'. There's a largely unexplored world where knowledge of contact scorching is concerned,  one this kitchen-experimenter can only hint at.  Who would know or even suspect it -  looking all those categorical and dismissive comments made in Shroudie Land, like the one in the title.

When in doubt - experiment. It's the sure way to experience the buzz of real science - as distinct from received wisdom/dogma, all-too-often pseudoscience.  Not for nothing is this site called "sciencebuzz".  As the song goes: "It ain't necessarily so..."

*A Summary of STURP's Conclusions

Editor's Note: After years of exhaustive study and evaluation of the data, STURP issued its Final Report in 1981. The following official summary of their conclusions was distributed at the press conference held after their final meeting in October 1981:

No pigments, paints, dyes or stains have been found on the fibrils. X-ray, fluorescence and microchemistry on the fibrils preclude the possibility of paint being used as a method for creating the image. Ultra Violet and infrared evaluation confirm these studies. Computer image enhancement and analysis by a device known as a VP-8 image analyzer show that the image has unique, three-dimensional information encoded in it. Microchemical evaluation has indicated no evidence of any spices, oils, or any biochemicals known to be produced by the body in life or in death. It is clear that there has been a direct contact of the Shroud with a body, which explains certain features such as scourge marks, as well as the blood. However, while this type of contact might explain some of the features of the torso, it is totally incapable of explaining the image of the face with the high resolution that has been amply demonstrated by photography.
The basic problem from a scientific point of view is that some explanations which might be tenable from a chemical point of view, are precluded by physics. Contrariwise, certain physical explanations which may be attractive are completely precluded by the chemistry. For an adequate explanation for the image of the Shroud, one must have an explanation which is scientifically sound, from a physical, chemical, biological and medical viewpoint. At the present, this type of solution does not appear to be obtainable by the best efforts of the members of the Shroud Team. Furthermore, experiments in physics and chemistry with old linen have failed to reproduce adequately the phenomenon presented by the Shroud of Turin. The scientific consensus is that the image was produced by something which resulted in oxidation, dehydration and conjugation of the polysaccharide structure of the microfibrils of the linen itself. Such changes can be duplicated in the laboratory by certain chemical and physical processes. A similar type of change in linen can be obtained by sulfuric acid or heat. However, there are no chemical or physical methods known which can account for the totality of the image, nor can any combination of physical, chemical, biological or medical circumstances explain the image adequately.
Thus, the answer to the question of how the image was produced or what produced the image remains, now, as it has in the past, a mystery.
We can conclude for now that the Shroud image is that of a real human form of a scourged, crucified man. It is not the product of an artist. The blood stains are composed of hemoglobin and also give a positive test for serum albumin. The image is an ongoing mystery and until further chemical studies are made, perhaps by this group of scientists, or perhaps by some scientists in the future, the problem remains unsolved.
Brief summary/update of my own position re the scorch hypothesis after some 2 years/200+ postings.

1. At the outset I could see scarcely if any scientific merit in non-contact scorch hypotheses, notably those involving radiation or of putrefaction products leaving a chemical imprint. But then advocates of those hypotheses seem content to assume them correct, while failing to seek and provide experimental confirmation. In short, those ideas are nor scientific, and it is thus pseudoscience to maintain that they are.

2. I initially envisaged the scorch technique as one of heating a metal template, probably bas relief, and pressing it down into linen spread out of a yielding material, e.g. bed of sand. But there were difficulties with that, notably that one could not easily monitor the progress of scorching, thereby risking over-scorching. There might also be excessive tenting of the linen between extremities, say between the kneesand the tips of the toes, with minimal imprinting of everything in-between,

3. When experimenting with a brass crucifix as template, I reversed the geometry, laying the heated template down on a hard surface, covering with linen, then, quickly, with a damp overlay, and manually moulding the two apposed fabric layers to the major surface contours. That procedure, which I call the LOTTO method (Linen On Top, Then Overlay) allows one to monitor heat flow (touchy-feely technology!), makes it harder to over-scorch (in fact, near impossible), gives a fuzzier, arguably more Shroud-like image,  and seemed the right answer if one were aiming to develop the TS image in a single step.

4. However, the LOTTO method does not account for some alleged subtleties in the TS image at the microscopic level. While one has to take much on trust - much that is written being little more than anecdotal - one might with the eye of faith describe the TS image as showing a half tone effect, where apparent differences in image intensity are not due to continuously varying scorch intensities between neighbouring fibres, but to differences in a chosen area between numbers of fibres that are scorched to a particular maximum level OR unscorched, with no in-in betweens. The half-tone effect could be described as digital as distinct from analogue imprinting. Some might consider chemical precedents for "digital imprinting" are few and far between, encouraging one to seek explanations that involve two or more steps, rather than a single one.
Recently I have proposed just such a two step mechanism involving: 1. Intense analogue scorchimg as a primary step, i.e. at point of manufacture centuries ago. 2. Subsequent loss of all scorched fibres, except those that are minimally scorched, e.g. by selective pyrolysis of the outermost PCWs, that does not impair the mechanical strength of the whole fibre. The half-tone effect then gradually appears via a 'survival-of- the-fittest' process leaving finally just two (main) classes of fibre - minimally-scorched versus unscorched.
The transition from intense to fainter scorch could have been entirely natural and unaided, Alternatively, it may have been accelerated at some point early on, in order to 're-invent' a deliberately-contrived scorched image, representing say, a martyred Templar, as one of the crucified Jesus, with a fainter attenuated scorch being promoted as a Veronica-like sweat imprint.  See the more recent postings on my now dormant specialist Shroud blog for more details on the "reinvention" hypothesis.

5. As hinted at earlier (but still little more than conjecture so far) I'm toying with the idea that that the LOTTO method was used, and, at least for the torso, might have used a 3D bronze that was half-embedded in sand to make it effectively a bas relief at the imprinting stage. What's more, the sand bed itself could be hot (used in fact to heat the template) relying on the fact that contact between linen and sand, far from being undesirable, might help to provide an instant  aged yellow look to the Shroud linen, with a smaller contrast difference between image and background for your more authentic-looking Shroud .

Initially I considered  that a bronze of the crucified Jesus might have been chosen, even if intending the image to be promoted, at least initially, as that of a more modern martyr, notably a Templar (Jacques de Molay?), the chemically pyrolytic/artistically pyrographic art form signalling the manner of execution (slow roasting at the stake). Another possibility has since occurred to me. Were there life-sized bronzes available in medieval times of St.Lawrence of Rome, who also was put to death by slow-roasting (258AD), with much medieval art work (painting) depicting him horizontally on his grid iron, often held  down by men with tridents or pitchforks, with or without cords?

Artist and date still unknown to this blogger, despite the above picture of St.Lawrence appearing in many different internet sites.

The advantage of using an effigy of St.Lawrence, if available, is that hands may have been in the right location to start with, if the contemporaneous 2D representation in art were anything to go by.

Reactive postscript:

Message to the gent on Troll Central. aka shredstory.som, who is trying to stick the charge of pseudoscience on this pro-scorch, anti-authenticity investigator.

You’re wrong, just plain wrong, indeed about so many things.

You’re  one of these people who imagines that science demands instant experimental confirmation of a new idea, that nothing can proceed without that confirmation, and that there’s an obligation on the originator of an idea to deliver the confirmation, or otherwise keep his thoughts to himself. At least, that’s your position where this investigator is concerned, though I note you do not demand the same of those who are content to sketch out airy-fairy scenarios of mysterious bursts of radiation,  or of ammoniacal vapours that travel in straight lines to conjectural sugary targets in linen.

Sorry, all you and other like-minded 'more-scientific-than-thou' armchair philosophers. That’s not how science works, and never has been.

 Science is primarily about ideas. Ideas run in advance of experimental corroboration, sometimes by years, decades even.  It’s the ideas, shared freely soon after inception  that provide the buzz for many in science.  There’s as much interest in supporting or refuting other people’s ideas as there in one’s own. It’s a collegiate thing: ideas go into a common pool. They may be known by their originator’s name, as a courtesy, and less charitably, to prevent plagiarising by those with no ideas of their own. But once an idea is out in the open, the genie’s out of the bottle, and there’s a sense in which it then belongs to science, rather than its originator. There is no shame in having one’s idea proved (or even disproved) by another scientist, the essential test of its scientific merit being whether it shows predictive utility, and whether or not it stimulates new lines of investigation, hopefully productive, that might otherwise not have been tried.

It’s time the world of shroudology ceased pretending that the scorch hypothesis was ruled out of contention  by the tendentious lines of argument advanced by Raymond N.Rogers and others, least of all by STURP (see previous posting).  It was not. While wishing no disrespect to someone who has sadly passed on, Rogers seemed to regard linen fibres as if they were composed entirely of cellulose. He made scarcely any reference to the chemically more reactive non-crystalline matrix of hemicelluloses, except as an “impurity”. Neither did he make reference to the superficial PCW (primary cell wall) that I can recall. Indeed he seemed to have no knowledge or even interest in the nature of the linen fibre as a botanical entity. To him, it was simply cellulose fibres, scarcely any different from his chemist’s filter paper.

  Those who have survived him have even less excuse to ignore the likely role of PCW hemicelluloses in scorching, given it’s now over 2 years since I posted a reference to Yang et al, emphasising that hemicelluloses pyrolyse  in a much lower temperature range than cellulose.

“…the pyrolysis of hemicellulose and cellulose occurred quickly, with the weight loss of hemicellulose mainly happened at 220–315 °C and that of cellulose at 315–400 °C….

 As I say, absolutely no excuse.  The facts speak for themselves. One cannot turn a blind eye to the facts. One cannot claim to be investigating the Shroud image scientifically, making vague references to some kind of “radiation”, usually unspecified, and failing to recognize the existence of the superficial PCW with one or more components prone to contact scorching.  Scorching by direct contact (zero air gap)  explains so much (the negative image especially, its preferential location on crown threads, its chemical and spectral  properties  which though poorly characterised thus far are consistent with pyrolysed, i.e. thermally-degraded carbohydrates, with no direct evidence that I’m aware of that it might represent a non-enzymatic browning product due to Maillard reactions requiring  an exogenous source of amino- nitrogen AND reducing sugars.

It’s time the world of Shroudology woke up and smelt the coffee. It’s the roasting of coffee beans that gives them their aroma. It was almost certainly the roasting , or rather scorching of linen carbohydrates due to direct contact with a heated  object that gave them their physical and chemical fingerprint, albeit presently lacking in detail and a facsimile negative image.

 (But why is that? I’ll tell you why. It’s due to wilful and chronic neglect following a  premature rejection  of a commonsensical proposition – thanks in no small part to what can only be described as agenda-driven pseudoscience, of refusing to give proper consideration to a particular IDEA). 

Which is where we came in. Science is the world of ideas. Ideas have to be addressed fairly and squarely - not swept under the carpet- citing anti-idea arguments that lacked credibility, to say nothing of objectivity, right from the word go.
Update: 22:30 Wed 9 April

April 9, 2014 at 4:26 pm | #5
CB: ” Yet the vast majority have never bothered to produce a single contact scorch. I have – hundreds of them. While I sadly lack the technology to prove it, I invite others to disprove my contention that a contact scorch on linen can be as superficial as one likes, right down to the molecular scale at surface (primary cell wall) level. ”
Colin, you have “hundreds of them”..
Me too.
You have a microscope. You could easily demonstrate that a ” a contact scorch on linen can be as superficial on linen as on likes..”
At least at thread level.


Back in November last year, I tried deliberately, with no success, to ‘over-scorch’ using my LOTTO procedure.The best I could do was to produce faint scorches on linen that might reasonably be described as Shroud –like on that basis. But expecting me to show that those scorches are highly superficial at the thread level, which may sound reasonable to the uninitiated,  is not as simple as it may seem. 

Why not? Because scorches that are exceedingly faint at the macroscopic level become almost impossible to detect when viewing individual threads or fibres under the microscopic. One is in effect asking the impossible – at least where a kitchen lab is concerned -  to produce faint scorches that can then be studied at the microscopic level. 

Don’t believe me? Then check the several photomicrographs in the posting linked to above. It becomes virtually impossible to distinguish between individual coloured and uncoloured fibres under the microscope, which is what one has to do in order to determine superficiality even at gross thread level. The colour one sees, such as it is, the merest hints of yellow or brown coloration, comes from seeing bundles of fibres packed closely together. It is asking too much to expect one to categorise individual fibres by colour, say by probing with a needle. A subtle scarcely visible scorch is just that – a subtle scarcely visible scorch.

Put another way: if one is asked to produce scorches that are highly superficial at the macroscopic level, judged on the basis of faintness to to the unaided eye, it is unreasonable to ask for visual proof of superficiality at the microscopic level.  The human eye is a wonderful thing - but cannot be expected to perform miracles. The better the model in terms of faint image, the progressively harder the model becomes to probe microscopically.

All of this needless to say distracts from the real issue, namely that it is ultimately against the spirit of science to attempt to dismiss or even marginalize scorching by contact, when the facts speak for themselves: contact scorching accounts for the major characteristics of the Shroud image. 

Where there are gaps or discrepancies, the first thought should be to account for  them in terms of precise scorching technique - LOTTO etc- or maybe secondary ageing effects. It is hardly scientific to nitpick or snipe at a model that explains so much, when there are no other credible models on offer, at least not ones that fulfil elementary scientific criteria  of theoretical feasibility and experimental testability..

Ray Rogers - along with several others - attempted to strangle the scorch hypothesis at birth.  But the case for immediate euthanasia was full of holes, as I have repeatedly pointed out. It was hardly one of the more glorious chapters in the history of science.

But the baby somehow survived, and is now a rebellious and unruly teenager, riding around on a noisy motorbike.

The successors of Ray Rogers, kindred spirits in detesting any idea of a medieval provenance, never mind scorching, are now attempting to set up road blocks, or, as in the cartoons, to paint what could be mistaken for dark tunnel entrances onto roadside outcrops of solid rock.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Some thoughts on the Sahara dust, aka "smog", aka "pollution"

From today's BBC website - the so-called "smog".

Once again, the UK media is fouling up spectacularly, through conflating numerous factors that need to be separated.

Yes, there is Sahara dust settling on our cars after rain. The phenomenon has been known at least since the reports of Darwin, sailing across the Atlantic.  And yes, airborne dust may irritate the airways or lungs of susceptible people, those with pre-existing conditions especially, but keeping children at home instead of school is a massive over-reaction. Who created an instant scare and why?

If it is Saharan dust alone, then all I can say is "get real". I was in the savannah north of Ghana in the late 60s when visibility was down to a mile or less, thanks to the Harmattan (fine dust blown in from the Sahara).

Ghana during the Harmattan season  (Akosombo dam).

But I never coughed, and don't recall others doing so. The main concern was cracked skin on lips, due to the dry air.

So are there other nasty ingredients in the mix, responsible for the "smog" description?  Is it photochemical smog? Maybe, that's easy enough to check, since the chief particulate there is  likely to be miniature suspended crystals of ammonium nitrate or sulphate. Have we been given data for grown ups? Nope. We're talking about the UK media here with its exceptional inertia and resistance to getting on to experts in universities, the learned societies and elsewhere who know about such things.

Maybe it's plain old diesel engine pollution, giving rise to excessive levels of nitrogen oxides or small carbon particulates (PM10s). Any hard evidence for that? Nope. We're talking about the UK media here. Don't bother asking for hard evidence.

More later, once we have some data, some numbers that might justify the current headlines that would have us believe that the air we breathe is essentially no different from that of Beijing's.

See this blogger's previous posting on Saharan dust, photographed while on holiday in Pisa, with some speculation re a possible role in spreading foot-and-mouth disease. (OK, a bit of a long shot).

Update:  Telegraph:  Saharan dust and pollution. We need a sense of proportion says Boris Johnson.

And here's a link to a video clip on the BBC's site, an interview with a senior ' air quality analyst" talking about "pollution" without specifying its nature, except to say it's "sometimes" washed out of air by rain, but not always, because, wait for it, "it's a bit complicated".

To think that I and most of my fellow countrymen and women pay a hefty annual licence fee for that condescension, that banality!

What was interesting was to hear that London is now at the top of our local 10 point scale for "pollution" (whatever that means). But don't run away with the idea that we now match Beijing, where the top of its scale is described  as "100 times higher".  The issue-obscuring, dare one say media smog  gets  progressively worse, progressively dumbed-down,  year on year.

Update: Friday 4th April

Today I'll be attempting to dissociate the various conrtibutions  to what our media are presently describing as a 'killer smog'. A few more perceptive outlets are referring to a "cocktail" though for many "dog's dinner: might be a more appropriate description.

We'll start by conidering the origin of the term smog as a mixture of smoke and fog, and why it came to such prominence in connection with the London 'peasoupers' in the 1950s, which this blogger recalls vividly (one could stretch one's arm in front of one and be unable to see one's finger - but were still expected to find one;s way to infant and junior school). We'll look at the meaning of smoke, in a scientific context, as an aerosol of suspended solid particles in air or gas generally, and ask if it was really "smoke" that was killing thousands of people when raw coal provided the chief ,means of heating homes, until the Clean Air Acts arrived, requiring first smokeless fuel, and then gradually encouraging cleaner alternatives to solid fuel, notably gas and electricity.

We'll then look at 'photochemical smog' associated with vehicle pollution, and of great concern in US cities especially in the 60s and 70s, and consider the nature of vehicle exhaust emissions, before and after the introduction of now obligatory catalytic converters, and the crucial role that sunlight plays (thus the 'photo' of 'photochemical'). We'll find ourselves discussing ozone (that's ground-level ozone, one of the nastiest and most insidious of the air pollutants), and how it comes to accompany photochemical smogs,  but also ask what the solid components are of a photochemical smog (since ozone, nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides, unburnt hydrocarbons etc are gases and/or vapours, not solids).

Finally, we'll briefly consider the difference (if any) between a smoke and a dust-laden atmosphere.

The Great Smog of 1952

Here's a link to essential background reading (and very readable too):component of the smog that brought visibility down to feet and sometines inches.

I shan't try  to summarise it here. Suffice it to say that what descended and got trapped over London would have been  "smog" literally, i.e. a combination of fog (minute swirling airborne droplets of condensed water vapour) and solid particles, The latter, the suspended solid "smoke" component was derived from the burning of soft coal prior to replacement with smokeless solid fuel (coke, anthracite etc) . (Light porous coke is coal that has had volatiles driven off first, so that it produces fewer gases and vapours,  little if any flame, and much less sending aloft of solid carbon and ash particles). That's the visual aspect. But it's unlikely that smog as described here was the real killer. The latter was almost certainly due to the "passengers" in that smog, notably oxides of sulphur (SO2, SO3, i.e. sulphur dioxide and trioxide) and especially droplets of sulphuric acid, H2SO4, which form when oxides of sulphut react chemically with moist air.

So while the killer smogs of the coal-burning era are of limited relevance in modern UK, Europe and the US (though still a major contibutor in China) they provide a pointer as to the multifactorial nature of man-made air pollution. There is visual pollution one can see - suspended solids especially. But there are the less visible or indeed invisible components that one cannot - noxious gases and liquid acids derived therefrom.

Is the present smog over the UK a killer,or potential killer? Are the mortuaries filling up with old people especially who have wheezed and coughed to a premature grave, as was the case in 1952, when there was suddenly a shortage of coffins, and when florists shelves were cleared of flowers?

The answer so far seems to be NO. In fact, the London Ambulance service reckoned there were an extra 27 call-outs for the entire city that could be attributed to the "killer" smog.  That is reassuring, while no grounds for complacency. Let's press on all the same with the science, and ask whether the poor visibility and air pollution readings really justify the term "smog" or whether dust-laden wind from the south, with additional vehicle pollutants from the Continent, with or without appreciable photochemical endproducts, are the cause of the hundreds of scare stories in our media.

Here's a link to the latest from the BBC's website. I recommend careful reading.
What seems increasingly clear is that our EU masters are using the visibility of this pollution episiode, due to an entirely natural phenomenon, in ordre to justify ongoing legal action against the UK for excessive levels of nitrogen oxides.

But the main cause of nitrogen oxide pollution is diesel engines , which previously have been promoted for their greater fuel economy on a mile per gallon/kilometre per litre basis.  Catalytic converters are supposed to deal with the greater amounts of nitrogen oxides, formed primarily by reaction between atmospheric nitrogen and oxygen under higher compression/temperature compared with a petrol engine - but which clearly do not. It's hard to escape the thought that the EU are being incredibly opportunist right now, and need to step back and think through the science, pollutant by pollutant, source by source. Our control freak masters in Brussels also need to bear in mind  that air pollution, especially from vehicles and industry, is no respecter of national boundaries.

Photochemical smog

Here's a good link that explains the complexity of photochemical smog. 

Why is it good? First, it focuses attention on end-product ozone, O3. a very nasty airways irritant. Secondly it shows how those nitrogen oxides, undesirable in themselves, operate as recycling catalysts to cause oxygen conversion to ozone. Thirdly it shows the permissive role that is played by petrol fumes released into air when you fill up your car, the socalled VOC component of air pollution (VOC = volatile organic compound) which through complex chemical cycles results in far more end-product ozone than would otherwise be the case.

Update: Friday 10:30  Comment under the Boris Johnson article in the Telegraph:

I cycled 15 miles on Wednesday, 35 miles yesterday. It was only when a friend berated me for 'not heeding the warnings' that I even knew we supposedly had a 'pollution' problem. Though the air had seemed a little hazy, there were no other noticeable effects
I'm in my late 50s and line in the South-East - supposedly the epicentre of the disaster
But I do recall a similar incident of Saharan dust back in the 60s. The major worry then was not about people's health, but about the need to redo the washing which was hanging on the line.

Update: Middle England:
the day started very overcast and gloomy, and my first thought was: Are the Jeremiahs maybe right after all? Is there an exceptional weather event, bringing exceptional air pollution?Well, it's now mid-morning. It's still gloomy but there is no problem as regards visibility. The wooded ridge, about a mile away, that I see from my window is in plain view with no hint of haze in the air. It's simply overcast with grey skies, and children are playing happily outdoors in the nearby school. Next apocalyptic crisis please, dear UK media.

 I shall now take a break, needed to go through 44 pages of  the EU's pdf setting out limits on common air pollutants (oxides of sulphur, nitrogen, fine particulates etc). Not surprisingly, ozone limits are not specified, it being assumed that limits on the primary precursors (nitrogen oxides especially) should prevent excessive O3 production.

Update: 5th April. The story has now died the death, glad to say. Once again, the way this story broke did not reflect terribly well on our print media, especially the tabloid end with its "killer" smog headlines (but what else is new?). I still have to track down (if possible) the actual data that got the Government claiming there was a conjunction of both Sahara dust and top-end levels of normal pollutants (yes, I'm sticking with this topic for a while longer, if only to be better prepared to respond to the next alert tha keeps children off school, probably needlessly). I had a sudden thought last night. That 10 point scale the Govt use is made up of different pollutant concentrations (SO2, NOx, and, wait for it, particulates, especially the smallest particles - PM 2.5 and PM10s): the latter are often, dare I say usually taken to mean fine carbon particles, especially from diesel engines. You don't suppose that Saharan dust particles upped the PM figures, and that the assumption was made that any fine particle, capable in theory of being trapped in the lungs, was as bad as another? Evidence? To return to my earlier point, what is the evidence if any that people who live in the savannah regions bordering the Sahara desert, who have an annual harmattan season with poor visibility, suffer an appreciably higher rate of airway and lung disorders than those who live elsewhere?

Update: Sunday 6th April. Spotted that the Sunday Times had done a front page feature on diesel fumes this morning, and not having an online subscription, went out to buy the dead tree version (first time I've done that in year).
In fact there are three items in today's  paper no less, all focusing on what is seen as the grozing menace of diesel engine pollution, prompted, rightly or wrongly, by the Saharan dust.
As I say,the first is on Page 1 and 2, entitled: "Diesel deadlier than petrol". The second is on Page 11: "Diesel fumes hard children's brains" and then there's the much-respected Camilla Cavendish on Page 23: "With every extra breath, children demand we are weaned off diesel".There are some alarming statistics in those three articles about the growing levels of atmospheric nitrogen dioxide and fine particulates that have been linked  diesel-powered commercial vehicles AND especially to the growing popularity of diesel-engined cars. I'll be back later with some details. Suffice it to say that modern research indicated that those fine particulates are not just a threat to lung function. They transported to all parts of the body - heart and brain included -  and are now implicated in a much wider range of pathology than previously (strokes, heart attacks, age-related memory loss, even autism). Living as I do less than a mile from one of England's major motorways, and (subjectively) aware that I cough a lot more than I did before moving here, I shall be keeping a closer watch on air pollution issues from now on, reporting anything that appears noteworthy, or areas of possible miunderstanding in the media.

Back later.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Shhh. Don't mention slow-roasted St.Lawrence to shroudie authenticists - or the peculiar imagery on the Lirey pilgrims' badge

(More) graphics to be added in due course.

I see someone has made reference to the martyred St.Lawrence of Rome on '' aka Troll Central.

April 2, 2014 at 11:04 am | #2
Dan and everyone:
Haven’t you seen this: ?
There is a publication by Janice Bennett, Saint Laurence and the Holy Grail, which is on my long list of books to be read in the (hopefully nerby) future. Also today in a bookstore I have seen the new book by Górny&Rosikoń duo, about the same topic.

That was in connection with his treasure-protecting  propensity in the early days of Christianity - 3rd century AD - for which he finally paid with his life by being slow-roasted over hot coals.

The manner of his death prompted a vast outpouring of devotional imagery, invariably showing him naked or near-naked, spread-eagled on a metal grill, often with some kind of restraint - either static like a rope around the waist (see above) and/or men with sharp-pointed tridents forcing him down onto the hot grill.

Am I the only one to have spotted a connection in the imagery of St.Lawrence's manner of death, and that of the Man on the Turin Shroud, one that is reinforced by the Lirey Pilgrim's badge, released it is said to coincide with the first recorded appearance of the Shroud in western Europe (Lirey being a small village near Troyes in the Champagne region of France).

Lirey Pilgrims' Badge, mid 14th century, dorsal view, curious restraint. (rope?)
Points of comparison to note are the restraining rope around the waist, the upturned head of a still live man enduring agony, and, on the reverse side of the Lirey badge, a diamond-shaped trellis that might well represent a roasting grid.

Sorry, Mario. Your Shroud Scope is brilliant - where would we be without it?  But I don't buy into your interpretation of that trellis pattern. I say it's a representation of a barbecue- for slow-roasting of assorted heretics and martyrs.

OK, I've previously suggested that the Shroud was created as a memorial to the last of the Knights Templar. But their leaders - Jacques de Molay, Geoffroi de Charney etc.-  were also slow-roasted on the banks of the Seine in Paris in 1314 in a manner similar to that of St.Lawrence of Rome in AD 258.

Here's another depiction in medieval (?) art of the martyrdom of St.Lawrence.  Note the almost identical posture with that of  the man on the Turin Shroud (hands crossed to preserve modesty, legs crossed).

Methinks the Shroud of Turin is, or was originally a depiction of a man being, or having been, slow-roasted to death - not crucified, But don't tell anyone I told you so.

Just kidding. The ideas here were expressed on my specialist Shroud of Turin blog almost two years ago and picked up again more recently on spotting those images of St.Lawrence, diamond trellis grid irons etc,

Link to that more recent posting

See also: "Is the Lirey badge telling us that the man on the TS had been barbecued on a horizontal grill like St. Lawrence.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Message to Shroudie trolls: my calling that uv laser beam man a “Mickey Mouse scientist” was not a personal attack. It was intentionally impersonal.

Yes, as the title makes clear, my describing Paolo Di Lazzaro and his  ENEA team  as “Mickey Mouse scientists” was not a personal attack, It was actually generic and impersonal, a swipe at perceived lack of professionalism, but with no attempt to demean character. Professionalism, or lack thereof, is not about character (unless one adds that charge, which I did not). It’s about competence and/or incompetence.  It’s about delusions of adequacy. It’s about engineers who think they can dabble in science in order to promote an agenda (which in this instance was religious, but would have attracted my attention whatever the underlying agenda – real or perceived).

At all kinds of levels, which I shall now proceed to enumerate, the 2011 laser escapade by those ENEA state employees, apparently working after hours with company-provided equipment, was wrong, wrong, wrong. What’s more I said so almost immediately, stating first what COULD have been done (in my very first Shroud posting – on this very site under the title of  ‘thermostencilling by radiation’ ) before moving on to what SHOULD not have been done. Sure, it looks like cocksure confidence and even arrogance. But nobody condemns the sportsman who can summon up specialist skills when needed. So why deny seasoned scientists like myself, albeit long retired,  the opportunity once in a while to display the armoury at our disposal, one that may have taken a lifetime to assemble and polish?

This unwillingness to mince words on a subject close to my heart (and head), namely the use and abuse of science has in turn attracted unwelcome attention in the Shroudie world. The name calling began early in 2012, and has continued ever since, with Troll Central deserving my designation in allowing one “psuedonym” (sic) to emerge from the woodwork with a carefully-crafted attack. Yes, it was clearly a troll attack, possibly, probably by someone who is active in the Shroud world, more likely as a promoter and polemicist than as a genuine investigator. But you know what they say. Don’t feed the trolls.

This blogger has a different way of dealing with trolls. It’s called unimpeachable honesty and transparency. You see, they are the characteristics those anonymous trolls lack in choosing to snipe from cover in so furtive and underhand a fashion. I shall now detail blow-by-blow the thinking that led me to apply that “Mickey Mouse science” tag to the ENEA team and its chief spokesman, Dr.Paolo Di Lazzaro.

I shan’t disappear from sight (or site) to assemble it completely. I’ve flagged up what I intend to do, and more importantly why I am doing it now, more than two years after my first posting here. Trolls cannot be ignored. They try to elicit a response they hope will cause further (self-inflicted) damage to their target.  This blogger, this retired science bod, will respond by stating chapter and verse what led him to level the charges of pseudo- and Mickey Mouse science. If that results in self-inflicted damage, then so be it.

My recollections will be assembled carefully and methodically in bite-size portions, and added onto the end of this posting at intervals. Be warned: there will be a surfeit of the first person pronoun.  But then, that’s the way this blog and this blogger operates. It’s a (we)blog in the original sense of the term – a kind of running diary posted to the internet, warts ‘n’all. While not 100% certain, I  suspect that it’s the first time a research project  with a clearly defined goal (to discover how the Shroud image was or could have been created by a medieval artisan) has been reported in real time.  See the most recent postings on my specialist  Shroudie blog for a summary of progress to date.

Back again (April 1st). See this item on the BBC's site: "Is this the best April Fool's Ever?" (harvesting the spaghetti crop in the Swiss Tyrol)

I found myself checking the calendar in late December 2011 when reading all those headlines.

The Telegraph:

Italian Study claims Turin Shroud  is Christ's Authentic Burial Robe


The scientists set out to "identify the physical and chemical processes capable of generating a colour similar to that of the image on the Shroud." They concluded that the exact shade, texture and depth of the imprints on the cloth could only be produced with the aid of ultraviolet lasers – technology that was clearly not available in medieval times.
The scientists used extremely brief pulses of ultraviolet light to replicate the kind of marks found on the burial cloth.
They concluded that the iconic image of the bearded man must therefore have been created by "some form of electromagnetic energy (such as a flash of light at short wavelength)." Although they stopped short of offering a non-scientific explanation for the phenomenon, their findings will be embraced by those who believe that the marks on the shroud were miraculously created at the moment of Christ's Resurrection.
"We are not at the conclusion, we are composing pieces of a fascinating and complex scientific puzzle," the team wrote in their report.
Prof Paolo Di Lazzaro, the head of the team, said: "When one talks about a flash of light being able to colour a piece of linen in the same way as the shroud, discussion inevitably touches on things like miracles and resurrection." "But as scientists, we were concerned only with verifiable scientific processes. We hope our results can open up a philosophical and theological debate but we will leave the conclusions to the experts, and ultimately to the conscience of individuals."

The Independent

Scientists say Turin Shroud is Supernatural


Italian government scientists have claimed to have discovered evidence that a supernatural event formed the image on the Turin Shroud, believed by many to be the burial cloth of Jesus Christ.

After years of work trying to replicate the colouring on the shroud, a similar image has been created by the scientists.
However, they only managed the effect by scorching equivalent linen material with high-intensity ultra violet lasers, undermining the arguments of other research, they say, which claims the Turin Shroud is a medieval hoax.
Such technology, say researchers from the National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development (Enea), was far beyond the capability of medieval forgers, whom most experts have credited with making the famous relic.
"The results show that a short and intense burst of UV directional radiation can colour a linen cloth so as to reproduce many of the peculiar characteristics of the body image on the Shroud of Turin," they said.
And in case there was any doubt about the preternatural degree of energy needed to make such distinct marks, the Enea report spells it out: "This degree of power cannot be reproduced by any normal UV source built to date."
A statement by lead researcher, Dr Paolo Di Lazzaro, said: "If our results prompt a philosophical or theological debate, these conclusions we'll leave to the experts; to each person's own conscience," he said.

Yes, when this retired scientist read those reports, his first thought was "This has to be some kind of joke, some kind of wind-up. A 20th/21st century uv laser, a modern day "miracle" by any reckoning, a miracle of quantum physics and highly sophisticated precision engineering, commandeered in orderto model an alleged 1st century supernatural event that left a long-lasting imprint on linen?

So let's model Noah's Flood shall we, by blowing up the hydroelectric turbine hall in the Aswan Dam...?

If this isn't a mis-scheduled April Day's joke, then it has to be Mickey Mouse science."

More to follow:

Let's not mince words. The crassness of deploying a uv excimer laser to model a supposed supernatural event has to be offscale where maintenenance of one's scientific credibility is concerned.  Just the idea of scanning the electromagnetic spectrum for promising radiations sources that might discolour linen is bad enough. OK, so the ultraviolet  region is capable in theory of yellowing paper and linen. How? It's not something mentioned in the ENEA press releases, but sunlight and other sources of uv can be absorbed by lignin to produce yellow-coloured phenolics. It might be possible to construct an image-formation mechanism around that. Except for one thing: human bodies or cadavers do not radiate uv. Nor do they emit any kind of coherent (laser) radiation in which all the waves are 'in step' regardless of frequency and wavelength.The entire idea of a burst of radiation of any sort having produced the image on the Shroud is a non-starter in scientific terms. It matters not that laboratory-generated radiation might conceivably do the trick, especially if emitted by a pulsed high-energy laser.  It is totally irrelevant, given that people do not emit radiation, except low energy infrared (heat). To propose a 1st century supernatural event that one calls "resurrection" and an accompanying image imprinting is perfectly in order if one is speculating within the religious sphere. To attempt to dress that up in scientific terminology, and to do so using a state-of-the-art man-made device like a uv excimer laser is not just pseudoscience. It is Mickey  Mouse science.

Let's look briefly at the marriage of science and technology that led to the laser - arguably one of the greatest high tech achievements of the latter half of the 20th century, inasmuch as light-producing processes in excited atoms were coaxed into doing something on Planet Earth which probably happens nowhere else in the Universe, at least spontaneously (alien civilizations are another matter, if at a comparable level of technological prowess as ourselves).

Let's begin with standard, intuitive easy-to-explain physics - the fluorescence phenomenon. Shine ultraviolet ("black") light at certain substances and they fluoresce, i.e. glow.  Why do  detergents claim to make clothes whiter than white? Answer: they contain 'optical brighteners', i.e. chemical compounds that absorb the uv radiation of daylight, and re-emit in the blue end of the visible spectrum. The extra blue light emitted tends to mask the yellow colour that comes with ageing, thus making the fabric look whiter.

At an atomic level, the phenomenon is easy to explain. A quantum (smallest packet) of high frequency uv light is absorbed by the brightening additive, which has the effect of converting it to its excited state in which an electron is promoted to a higher energy level, further from the nucleus. When the electron drops back to its original energy level, a quantum of light is re-emitted, always at a lower energy level, i.e lower frequency, longer wavelength. If the light is emitted is in the visible region, we say the compound is fluorescent. The accounting is simple: one photon of uv light in, one photon of visible light out. No special geometry is required, or inputs other than fluorescent chemical and uv radiation. The phenomenon can be observed in everyday life, requiring no special instrumentation. Not so with laser light.

The trick that generates a laser beam - one in which the wave trains are all in synch, giving a narrow concentrated beam - is to excite atoms, causing promotion of electrons, and then to irradiate with an external source of appropriately tuned radiation at the same time. Something remarkable happens which I don't pretend to understand. Instead of a single photon being ejected as the electron drops back to its ground state, two are produced. Thus the description "stimulated" in the acronym of LASER.(Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation). That's the science, the non-intuitive quantum physics, for which we have Einstein to thank initially. But some fancy engineering is needed as well, to contain the extra photons during the stimulation process long enough to generate an energetic pulse of coherent light. That requires a pair of mirrors, between which the photons reflect repeatedly as their numbers build. Then, when the energy reaches a critical level, one of the mirrors then displays a hidden property - it is semi-transparent, allowing the full strength laser beam to escape as a pulse of intense light. Given the number of things that have to be just right to create the laser effect, it's hardly surprising that laser beams are not found in nature - they are entirely a man-made creation (nature merely supplying the raw materials). So is it not disingenuous, to say the least, for the ENEA team to allow the term "supernatural" to appear in headlines, having deployed not just ultraviolet light, as comes from the sun, not cadavers, but a coherent beam of laser light no less, one that comes only from a man-made laser? It's bad enough that laser light was used as a model to produce a radiation scorch on linen (about which more later). To claim that the interaction might account, even in broad principle only,  for an allegedly 'supernatural' event might seem to some to display a cavalier disregard for language at the very least, and more besides. Give unto Caesar what is Caesar's. Give unto science and technology what is science and technology's. Laser beams are not part of God's creation, anymore than rockets, atom bombs,  hydroelectric power stations etc etc.

So, the specific energy source chosen to model; the Shroud image - coherent light from a man-made uv excimer laser - was contraindicated on grounds of appropriateness to the task. But one may go further and ask why any source of radiant energy was chosen. What is so special, so unique, about the Shroud image as to restrict consideration to radiation alone, given it is just one of the Big Three under the heading 'heat transfer' (the others being conduction and convection)?

Let's take a closer look at what those ENEA people said in their published paper, dated June 15 2010, as distinct from media reporting at the time or subsequently.

2010 Society for Imaging Science and Technology.
DOI: 10.2352/J.ImagingSci.Technol.2010.54.4.040302 

The faint yellowed body image embedded into the linen cloth of the Turin Shroud has peculiar chemical and physical characteristics that at the moment cannot be replicated all together in laboratory. The authors present experimental results of ArF excimer laser irradiation (wavelength 193 nm) of a raw linen fabric, seeking for coloration similar to that of the Shroud image. The authors achieved a permanent yellow coloration of linen as a threshold effectt of the laser beam intensity and number of shots. Most important, the authors have achieved for the first time a submicrometer depth of coloration of the outermost part of the fibers, leaving a colorless fiber medulla. The authors also obtained latent coloration that appears after artificial aging of linen following laser irradiations that at first did not generate any visible effect. The authors have recognized different physical and chemical processes involved in both coloration and latent coloration. The comparison of the Turin Shroud image with the results of our ArF laser irradiation shows an interesting overlap of the main physical and chemical features.

That abstract does not start at the beginning . There is no mention there of STURPm which I consider to have been seriously misquoted in a self-serving kind of way. To see how one has to move on to the Introduction (we'll return to the Abstract later).

INTRODUCTION (my bolded passages)

The Turin Shroud is a single piece of linen cloth measuring about 4.4 m by 1.1 m. Faint frontal and dorsal images of an apparently crucified man are embedded into the Shroud. These yellowish body images have peculiar chemical and physical characteristics that have stimulated a worldwide scientific debate.
Most of the scientific data on the Shroud image are from the work carried out by a team of 26 scientists under the auspices of the Shroud of Turin Research Project, Inc., (STURP) (1978), that performed an in-depth examination on the Shroud with electromagnetic energy, from infrared to x-rays, obtaining data leading to the analysis of the substances making up the body image and bloodstains.

  The STURP measurements show that the body image is not painted, printed, singed by a heated bas-relief, or rubbed on a sculpture; moreover, the image color resides on the top-most fibers in the cloth weave. Reference1 listed more than forty chemical and physical features of the Shroud image, and up to date all attempts to reproduce an image with the same microscopic and macroscopic aspect as well as all the chemical and physical characteristics have been unsuccessful. In this respect, the origin of the body image is still unknown

"Not singed by a heated bas relief"? Did STURP say that, as distinct from one or other of its members in personal memoirs etc? It certainly never said any such thing in its Summary, which I reproduce here in full.

A Summary of STURP's Conclusions

Editor's Note: After years of exhaustive study and evaluation of the data, STURP issued its Final Report in 1981. The following official summary of their conclusions was distributed at the press conference held after their final meeting in October 1981:

No pigments, paints, dyes or stains have been found on the fibrils. X-ray, fluorescence and microchemistry on the fibrils preclude the possibility of paint being used as a method for creating the image. Ultra Violet and infrared evaluation confirm these studies. Computer image enhancement and analysis by a device known as a VP-8 image analyzer show that the image has unique, three-dimensional information encoded in it. Microchemical evaluation has indicated no evidence of any spices, oils, or any biochemicals known to be produced by the body in life or in death. It is clear that there has been a direct contact of the Shroud with a body, which explains certain features such as scourge marks, as well as the blood. However, while this type of contact might explain some of the features of the torso, it is totally incapable of explaining the image of the face with the high resolution that has been amply demonstrated by photography.
The basic problem from a scientific point of view is that some explanations which might be tenable from a chemical point of view, are precluded by physics. Contrariwise, certain physical explanations which may be attractive are completely precluded by the chemistry. For an adequate explanation for the image of the Shroud, one must have an explanation which is scientifically sound, from a physical, chemical, biological and medical viewpoint. At the present, this type of solution does not appear to be obtainable by the best efforts of the members of the Shroud Team. Furthermore, experiments in physics and chemistry with old linen have failed to reproduce adequately the phenomenon presented by the Shroud of Turin. The scientific concensus is that the image was produced by something which resulted in oxidation, dehydration and conjugation of the polysaccharide structure of the microfibrils of the linen itself. Such changes can be duplicated in the laboratory by certain chemical and physical processes. A similar type of change in linen can be obtained by sulfuric acid or heat. However, there are no chemical or physical methods known which can account for the totality of the image, nor can any combination of physical, chemical, biological or medical circumstances explain the image adequately.
Thus, the answer to the question of how the image was produced or what produced the image remains, now, as it has in the past, a mystery.
We can conclude for now that the Shroud image is that of a real human form of a scourged, crucified man. It is not the product of an artist. The blood stains are composed of hemoglobin and also give a positive test for serum albumin. The image is an ongoing mystery and until further chemical studies are made, perhaps by this group of scientists, or perhaps by some scientists in the future, the problem remains unsolved.

If all one had was that STURP summary, one could be forgiven for thinking that the Shroud image was some kind of scorch, inasmuch as the characteristics listed ("oxidation, dehydration, conjugation of polysaccharides") are those associated with exposure to high temperatures, sufficient to cause thermal degradation and associated chemical reactions, often described as "pyrolysis reactions". No, the STURP summary never employed the term "scorch" as such (which is somewhat ambiguous if not further qualified). But then neither did it say that the Shroud image was definitely not a scorch either, contrary to what one might have assumed from the Introduction to the 2010 ENEA paper. One does not lightly misquote a landmark paper when introducing and justifying one's particular  approach to a research topic, yet that is precisely what those ENEA people did in 2010. What's more they went on to embellish their "definitely not a singe" pitch in that same Introduction.

 Do I feel the ghost of Raymond N.Rogers RIP hovering nearby as a write? Yo bet I do, since as soon as the term "scorch2 is invoked, he and his thinking are invariably summoned up in short order, so as to instantly crush any heretical thoughts as to the Shroud image being a mere contact scorch. It happened to this blogger a mere 6 weeks or so after engaging in Shroud studies and deploying the S word.

Note the categorical title: "The image on the Shroud is not a scorch".

It was Daniel R.Porter on his 'shredstorydotcom' site blowing the whistle on this upstart, later to be joined by innumerable character-defaming trolls. In an ideal world, I would have been able to focus purely on the ENEA team, but given the status accorded to the Rogers canon, a diversion to look at his oft-quoted arguments against "scorching" (read contact-scorching) is now essential.

Porter: The best we can do is use Rogers’ own words, and we might imagine him first saying, “Colin you are wrong because . . .”:
Cellulose molecules are folded back and forth in a fairly regular arrangement, and they show the properties of crystallinity. This is called a "fibrillar structure." When you rotate the stage of a petrographic microscope with crossed polarizers while looking at a linen fiber, straight lengths change from black through colored to black again every 90%. The fiber is birefringent and has an ordered structure.
When cellulose fibers are heated enough to color them, whether by conduction, convection, or radiation of any kind, water is eliminated from the structure (the cellulose is "dehydrated"). When water is eliminated, C-OH chemical bonds are broken. The C- free radicals formed are extremely reactive, and they will combine with any material in their vicinity. In cellulose, other parts of the cellulose chains may be the closest reactants. The chains crosslink.Crosslinking changes the crystal structure of the cellulose, and you can see the effect with a polarizing microscope.
When cellulose starts to scorch (dehydrate and crosslink), its characteristic crystal structure becomes progressively more chaotic. Its birefringence changes, and not all parts of a straight fiber go through clear transitions from dark to light at the same angle. Zones of order get smaller and smaller. It finally takes on the appearance of a pseudomorph and just scatters light. A significantly scorched fiber does not change color as the stage is rotated between crossed polarizers.
. . .
The crystal structure of the flax fibers of the Shroud shows the effects of aging, but it has never been heated enough to change the structure. It has never suffered chemically significant irradiation with either protons or neutrons. No type of radiation that could produce either color in the linen fibers or change the 14C content (radiocarbon age) could go unnoticed. All radiation has some kind of an effect on organic materials.
This proves that the image color could not have been produced by thermal or radiation ­induced dehydration of the cellulose. Image formation proceeded at normal temperatures in the absence of energetic radiation of any kind.
Porter: I think Rogers would have pointed out, as I and others have already attempted in one form or another, that there are many characteristics of the image that cannot be ignored. Since Colin is interested in what Rogers might think, I will confine myself to some image characteristics that Rogers specifically mentioned, I will use Rogers’ own words.
  • Direct microscopy showed that the image color resides only on the topmost fibers at the highest parts of the weave.
 (edit: it goes on to discuss banding irregularities and some (I think) arguable interpreations, but let's stop here and look at the gist of Rogers' arguments thus far. To say I am/was  hugely unimpressed would be a gross understatement, with no disrepsect to someone no longer around to defend himself (such is science).

(In fact, I've just remembered that I had Rogers "thrown at me" just 3 days after my very posting.

I must say I was hugely unimpressed with Rogers' case there, citing as it did the Arrhenius rate equation (and having it deployed as 'ammunition' by Daniel R Porter, a non-scientist) What does the Arrhenius equation, which I used to teach to would-beUniversity entrants,  have to do specifically with scorching, given it's a general equation that underpins the whole of chemical kinetics?).

So what was fundamentally and some migth say spectacularly wrong with Rogers' argument against scorching?   Answer: he displayed there and elsewhere a touchingly simplistic assumption that a linen fibre can be regarded essentially as pure cellulose, and that no other polysaccharide components are worthy of mention.

While cellulose is the chief constituent, it is also a remarkably stable entity, physically, chemically and botanically. That's why chemists use it as a filter medium, able to withstand any number of harsh reagents(not all).

But there are other polysaccharide component of plant cell walls that are chemically very different, even if their names are similar, notably the hemicelluloses. These are not made entirely of glucose units, as is the case with cellulose, but have an abundance of chemically reactive 5-carbon (pentosan) sugars too.However, the chief point of relevance is that the hemicelluloses as heteropolymers, with a diverse range of monosaccharide monomer units that create an open matrix or matrix - a far cry from the highly crystalline fibres of cellulose - a homopolymer (identical repeating units).

What's more the pyrolysis temperature of hemicelluloses are much, much lower than that of cellulose.

See this paper by H.Yang et al.

Characteristics of hemicellulose, cellulose and lignin pyrolysis

Quote from abstract (my bolding):

In thermal analysis, the pyrolysis of hemicellulose and cellulose occurred quickly, with the weight loss of hemicellulose mainly happened at 220–315 °C and that of cellulose at 315–400 °C. However, lignin was more difficult to decompose, as its weight loss happened in a wide temperature range (from 160 to 900 °C) and the generated solid residue was very high (∼40 wt.%). From the viewpoint of energy consumption in the course of pyrolysis, cellulose behaved differently from hemicellulose and lignin;

Yes, sad to say, Rogers, a chemist, with no botanical training that I'm aware of, displayed a total blind spot for the hemicelluloses of plant cell walls. In fact, the only reference I can recall him making was to hemicelluoses as "surface impurities". Well, he was partly right there, not about "impurities" (!) but about being on the surface, inasmuch as hemicelluloses are a major component of the primary cell wall. The latter is the most superficial part of any plant cell, and thus the first part to come into contact with a hot surface (or radiation for that matter).

In short, the reasons Rogers cited against the Shroud linen having been heated, based mainly on cellulose, were simply irrelevant He was looking in the wrong place. He should have been looking tat the hemicellulose-rich primary cell wall. There should have been a botanist on the STURP team.

More to the point, re ENSA,  the STURP team collectively did not  rule against a contact scorch, at least in its Summary, and while one its team leaders argued against a scorch, he based his case on irrelevant considerations.  STURP said that no one method could account for the totality of the image.  Why should it? The Shroud image has had centuries in which to acquire secondary characteristics due to ageing etc that would not be reproduced in a fresh scorch.

ENSA could not have been ignorant STURP's refusal to  be dogmatic, given its  references elsewhere to the primary cell wall. ENSA's case for rejecting the scorch hypothesis and resorting to high tech lasers was based on a false prospectus.

Now to the $64,000 dollar question. Are, or were (when first imprinted)  the characteristics of the Shroud image really so subtle such that nothing so crude as a contact scorch could possibly have produced it, requiring recourse to exotic mechanisms featuring mysterious radiation, emanating from a particular 1st century victim of crucifixion?

Reminder of what was written in that Introduction:

"... moreover, the image color resides on the top-most fibers in the cloth weave."

Yes, precisely. And what is that, but a signature of a contact scorch?  How can it be anything but?

Had it been a radiation scorch, the image would have been on deeper parts of the weave that were still in direct, unobstructed line of sight of the incident radiation'. The superficial nature of the Shroud image, residing on the highest points of the weave, SHOULD have been recognized as a contact scorch. Instead, that property has been bizarrely attributed to a radiation scorch. Why? On what grounds? Where is the experimental  evidence that would support so improbable an assumption. Come to think of it, where is the experimental evidence that demonstrates what a contact scorch can or cannot do to linen? Whence cometh all this expertise about contact scorches that quickly rules them out from consideration? How many contact scorches had Paolo Di Lazzaro and his ENEA team done, prior to relating that risible "hot coin" experiment, specifically for this blogger's benefit, on 'shredstorydot come'?

Yes, risible. That surely must be the occasion when the scientific credibility of ENEA's chief spokesman hit rock bottom. Even the first commenter on that thread could see how threadbare (no pun intended) were the contrived and self-serving data presented.

Still to come: that Mickey Mouse experiment with the hot coin.

Here's the preamble, provided by Paolo Di Lazzaro no less. (Don't you just love those opening words: "from a physics point of view" as if chemical scorching was purely about physics).

Dear Dan and All:

I checked the idea of Colin Berry in the website you quoted.  In short, from a physics point of view, his model is untenable, especially concerning the depth of coloration. Let me explain why.

Berry wrote: “The scorching will initially be confined to those parts of the fabric that are in immediate contact with the hot metal; no air gap is permissible, since radiated heat will not scorch white linen. What is more, the scorch will be confined to the outermost fibres of the thread, because the scorch will tend remain trapped within the first-encountered fibres, rather than being able to “jump across” to adjacent fibres. Why is that? It is because the resistant cellulose cores that are unaffected are able to conduct away heat rapidly, bringing the temperature of the hot template down to below that which will induce scorching Is it realistic to suppose that cellulose fibres could conduct away heat without themselves becoming degraded? Yes. I believe it is.”
It is quite easy showing the above assumption is wrong, and it is one of the few cases where it is faster doing the experiment than to explain the theory. According with a paper quoted by Berry, the onset of pyrolysis in hemicelluloses is at about 220°C.  We have heated a 5-cents euro coin at about 230 °C in contact with a linen cloth. Just 5 seconds after the coin reached the max temperature the whole cross section of threads in contact with the coin was colored.  After15 seconds all the thickness of the cloth was colored and the round shaped image of the coin appeared on the opposite side. After checking in our Lab, we repeated this easy and small-size experiments in the RAI3 TV studios (GeoScienza) to demonstrate that heating linen cannot give a superficial coloration. See starting from the minute 16:30.
After the experimental demonstration, let’s approach the basic elementary physics that explain why the idea of Berry is untenable, and heat cannot produce a superficial coloration.


That quoted passage of mine regarding heat conduction away from the immediate zone of pyrolysis by intact, heat-resistant cellulose fibres was taken from a posting of mine on 18th Feb 2012 (my most widely cited one to date, according to WordPress stats):

What Di Lazzaro in his theorizing failed to mention was the real-life evidence that cellulose can conduct heat sufficiently well to prevent overheating and scorching. I had mentioned the ability to boil water in a paper bag held over a flame.

But things move on. If I were asked today why I think a scorch can be highly superficial, and confined to the first few fibres of a thread. I would not give heat conduction - a physical explanation - as the initial response, despite the comforting support of that paper bag 'party trick'.

What would I now say?
I would first show what happens when one does serial stamping from a cooling template, to get a series of scorches of rapidly decreasing scorch intensities.

Each was done immediately after the other. Note the rapid loss of heat from the template (a horse bras). Why was that? The answer I (now) believe lies more in the realms of chemistry (or physical chemistry - thermochemistry) than pure physics alone. It's because the pyrolysis reactions in an open system, one in which water of dehydration is able to escape as steam, is endothermic, i.e. abstracting heat. Each time a new scorch was produced, more heat was quickly removed from the template, with barely sufficient remaining after the 4th imprinting to produce another (or at the limits of visibility).

So which is the appropriate model for the Shroud image - the initial intense scorch with a very hot template, or the final faint one with a cooler one?

I say the final one if a medieval artisan had set out to imprint an image on linen without destroying the integrity of the fabric through its entire thickness, in other words, wishing to leave a 'minimalist' superficial scorch only, and being prepared to conduct a few preliminary tests to ensure there would be no over-scorching. (In fact, as I reported late last year, there is a technique for scorching imprinting, one I call the LOTTO method - Linen On Top, Then Overlay) - the overlay being a damp cloth - that virtually guarantees a faint, fuzzy topside image and NO reverse-side scorching).

Note carefully the way Di Lazzaro's alleged clincher of an experiment was performed: "We have heated a 5-cents euro coin at about 230 °C in contact with a linen cloth. Just 5 seconds after the coin reached the max temperature the whole cross section of threads in contact with the coin was colored.  After15 seconds all the thickness of the cloth was colored and the round shaped image of the coin appeared on the opposite side."

So you transmit heat into metal continuously it would seem (details not given) until you have reached the temperature at which hemicelluloses are known to pyrolyse. You maintain contact, and lo an behold, one begins to see reverse side scorching, which is proof that a superficial front-side scorch is not possible.

But that result was guaranteed, given the way the experiment was designed, using prolonged contact between template and cloth for as long as needed to see a reverse side image. That was not a scientific experiment. There was no systematic testing of variables (time, temperature, contact pressure etc), merely one fixed, some might say rigged choice to produce the desired answer. Let's not mince our words. It was a Mickey Mouse experiment, an own goal on the part of ENEA's team leader, providing indisputable proof of what I had been saying all the way along, namely that these people do not have the faintest clue about the scientific method. Laboratory instrumentation and other hardware is there merely to confirm their preconceptions, and hopefully to persuade others to adopt their particular 'philosophy and theology' regarding the Shroud of Turin.

In passing I would mention another phenomenon that can make one think one can "see" reverse side scorching that is not really there (e.g. if examined closely with a hand lens). If viewing the reverse side against a light background, one can get back-reflection of yellow-light from the contact-scorch on the opposite side through the interstices of the weave. Yes, a hand lens shows it's sometimes not the fibres and threads that are coloured on a 'reverse-side scorch but the reflective supporting surface behind the linen. It's important to view the fabric on a black matt surface before making any 'positive' sighting of reverse-side scorching. See my recent posting on the BROIL effect.

Let's see what follows the "experiment" shall we?

"After the experimental demonstration, let’s approach the basic elementary physics that explain why the idea of Berry is untenable, and heat cannot produce a superficial coloration." 

Ah "basic elementary physics". You mean the kind I studied up to University entrance level maybe?  That's London University A-Level Physics. Maybe also the physics that I used to teach as part of the physical chemistry modules in London University A Level Chemistry?

Here's the rest of the anti-scorch broadside in the Di Lazzaro missive to Daniel R,Porter. I'll be back later to deal with it point by point.

The hot metal transfers energy(heat) to the primary cell wall (pcw) of the linen fibrils by contact. From a microscopic view, transferring energy by contact means the hot (i.e. fastly moving)atoms of metal hit hemicelluloses molecules transferring momentum, thus increasing both amplitude and velocity of the motion of hemicellulose molecules around the equilibrium position (centroid). As a consequence, hemicellulose increases its temperature.

Response: As you say - elementary physics. But for whose benefit? Why start in this fashion, given your missive was directed at a named individual, one with a scientific background, and (probably) some two or three decades your senior? Maybe you didn't like that label "Mickey Mouse scientist". All you have done so far is confirm it.

In the regions of contact between pcw and cellulosic medulla, we still have a transfer of heat by contact, like in the previous metal-pcw case. The temperature of the medulla will increase.  In the region where there is no contact (e.g.,a small air gap between pcw and medulla) we have heat transfer by irradiation.   In fact, every material emits radiation having a spectrum peaked at a wavelength which depends on its temperature: the higher the temperature, the shorter the wavelength. This is the well known phenomenon of the black body emission, governed by Planck’s law, Wien’s law and so on (first year exam for students of Physics, Mathematics, Chemistry, Engineer).

Response : Someone is treading on very dangerous ground here. Yes, we know that all matter above absolute zero (0 degrees Kelvin) exchanges radiation with other bodies, including those at a higher temperature. But that is infrared radiation at normal environmental temperatures. It does not become visible radiation (except for a miniscule, probably undetectable amount in the tail of the distribution).  What is the relevance of infrared radiation where scorching of linen is concerned? Answer: scarcely any except under special conditions.  Infrared radiation can only increase the vibration, stretching frequencies etc of chemical bonds. It does not have sufficient energy to break chemical bonds directly, unless from a customised high-intensity source. So who is starting to show an alarming ignorance of "elementary physics" (and/or chemistry)? To stand any chance of scorching with infrared radiation from a realistic source you would need to have a matt black or otherwise opaque pigment present (one aspect of  "black body"radiation, black bodies being efficient absorbers as well as emitters of radiation). That substance could then continue absorbing radiation until its temperature became sufficiently high to cause thermal rupture of chemical bonds. But that;s not the same as beaming infrared at white or near-white linen and expecting to see it scorch without having that opaque sensitizer present. See my very first experiment, reported on this site, showing how charcoal could act as a sensitizer for scorching  under an incandescent light source (a mix of infrared and visible light - what I called thermostencilling).

As an example, at 20 °C the walls of a room emit radiation with a broad spectrum, peaked in the far infrared at about 10-micrometers wavelength. In the case of hemicelluloses at 200 °C the pcw emits infrared radiation peaked at 6,1 micrometers. In the case we are considering, the 6-micrometer wavelength will interact with the cellulose of the core of the linen fibril (medulla), exciting vibrational levels of cellulose that decay in heat thus increasing the temperature of the medulla.
In addition, a well known optics law tells us the penetration depth of the interaction between radiation and medulla cannot be smaller than the wavelength, that is, not smaller than 6 micrometers in this case. This fact alone explain why infrared radiation cannot produce a superficial coloration of fibers.

Response. Yes, in theory. Wrong, in practice (which is all that matters where realistic  modelling of the Shroud image is concerned). Cellulose may well have infrared absorption bands of the frequency or wavelength stated, but that is of no relevance, given that white linen reflects most of the infrared and visible radiation that falls on it. There is simply insufficient heating from the tiny ir absorption to produce localised scorching.

The proof of this is apparent each time one imprints from a template with sunken relief.

Note how the sunken features of the template (a pencil sharpener) failed to imprint. That's despite the recessed metal being a mere millimetre or two below the main plane. Yes, there was infrared  radiation streaming across that air gap, but insufficient could be absorbed by the chemical bonds of the linen to produced localised heating and scorching.  That's why I experimented (successfully) with charcoal in my thermostencilling experiments. By adding an efficient thermo-opaque absorber of radiation, sufficient radiant energy (visible and infrared) was absorbed to produce localised heating and scorching.

By the way, it is not possible that “the resistant cellulose cores that are unaffected are able to conduct away heat rapidly” (see above Berry’s statement) because of elementary fluid dynamic equations (a classical engineering problem), of a not convenient area/volume ratio of cylinders (elementary geometry) and because Berry assumes a exothermic pyrolysis of cellulose, that is,by definition, a runaway process, extended in time. 

Response: Who knows the mechanisms that come in to play when cellulose conducts heat? One cannot treat it as a simplistic "engineering problem". This physicist/engineer certainly knows how to insult the intelligence of those of us who have more extensive background in biochemical systems at the molecular level.  Plant cell wall materials represent a complex physicochemical system that could feature any number of mechanisms operating at the molecular level, notably by "melting" and recrystallization aka thermally-induced disorder/re-order processes involving multiple hydrogen bonding interactions,  a well known phenomenon in polysaccharide chemistry (there's a large literature on starch so-called retrogradation that can be studied by differential scanning calorimetry and other techniques).

No, I did not assume an exothermic pyrolysis of cellulose. I quoted Yang et al who said that cellulose pyrolysis was ENDOTHERMIC, It was hemicellulose pyrolysis they said was exothermic. But see my earlier  comment. While the latter may be exothermic under standard conditions (15 degrees C) it may well be endothermic in an open system where H2O escapes as steam.


In summary, when heating a linen cloth by a hot metal in contact, well known physics models foresee the pyrolysis of the whole fibers and threads, and this is exactly what we observe in the experiments.

Response: Carbohydrate pyrolysis is chemistry, not physics. How can there be well known physics models for something that is chemistry?  How can there be well known physics models for something (scorching of linen) that has not been systematically studied, where we are presented with a simplistic one-off imprinting with a hot coin that was totally misconceived, proving absolutely nothing.

Useless to say, it is all the approach of Colin Berry to find a middle age technology able to create the Shroud image that is hopeless: just consider the half tone effect.  It could not have been made by medieval forgers because they would need a modern microscope to observe and then control their micrometric-scale coloration. 

Response:  Aren't you making an unwarranted assumption - namely that the half-tone effect was produced in a single step at the instant of image imprinting?  How can you be so certain? Who's to say that it is not the result of two steps: initial imprinting by contact scorching, followed by loss over time of the more heavily scorched fibres, leaving just minimally scorched ones? See my recent posting on the two-step making/unmaking hypothesis to account for the half-tone effect.

Summary: Look again at that definition (more correctly description) of pseudoscience that I retrieved from ratiional wiki. Then look at ENEA's laser beam experiment, the accompanying 'rationale' (though I use the term loosely), the references to philosophy and theology. Then look at the anti-scorch diatribe that its team leader sent to Daniel R.Porter, and then  at that simply dreadful single-point experiment with the hot coin , and the accompanying 'theory'.

What we see is an open-and-shut case of pseudoscience. My description of Paolo di Lazzaro and his ENEA team as Mickey Mouse scientists was fully justified.

More to follow.